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About that Tyler Colvin for Ian Stewart Trade…

By bullpenbrian - March 30, 2013 - 1:45 pm 2 comments.

Tyler Colvin

Tyler Colvin is starting the season in Colorado, but not with big league team.

In an unexpected move, the Rockies optioned the 27-year-old to their Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs. However, it’s not suspected Colvin will stay in the minors for long.

Although he’s blocked from a starting job by outfields Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Michael Cuddyer, Colvin’s versatility to play all three outfield position, and first base, should be enough to bring him back to the bigs on a bad team.

In the meantime, the Rockies think regular at-bats will help Colvin improve on the rough numbers he posted in the Cactus League this spring:
.167 (8-for-48), 14 K, 18 games.

Cubs fans seem to have difficulty letting go of the Colvin trade (Dec. 2011) because neither RHP Casey Weathers (Colorado’s 1st Rd pick in 2007) or Ian Stewart have panned out with Chicago.

But Colvin hasn’t reached the potential many saw with him in 2010: 20 HRs, 56 RBI in 135 games. His biggest obstacle, in Chicago and Denver, in establishing himself as a starter has been a continuous struggle with hitting for contact.

2010: 100 K, 25-perent of plate appearances.
2011: 58  K, 26-percent of plate appearances.
2012: 117 K, 26-percent of plate appearances.

Granted Colvin has shown plenty of pop at the plate (.858 OPS in 2012), he strikes out far too often, whiffing at a clip of once every 3.6 at-bats in his career.

That certainly had to be one reason why Jed Hoyer traded Colvin in the first place; he’s not a player who fits the organization’s grind-it-out plate mentality. But the other reason Hoyer made the move was to replace Aramis Ramirez at third base, and Stewart was expected to be the everyday starter, which obviously takes precedent over a swing-happy fourth outfielder.

If we have to choose a winner in the trade it’s Colorado because of the inclusion of DJ LeMahieu, who was packaged with Colvin, and served a bench role as a backup infielder with the Rockies last season. Weathers, on the other hand, went (4-2, 6.62) in 31 games with the Cubs Double-A affiliate in 2012.

Realistically, however, neither side benefited greatly from the trade, and the evaluation could change entirely if Stewart finally has the breakout season the Rockies always expected, and the Cubs have been waiting for.

Besides, the Cubs already have their own left-handed batting outfielder with good pop and a knack for striking out. And Brett Jackson may have a greater upside than Colvin does anyway.

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Sports Illustrated Preview, Cubs (67-95), 5th NL Central

By bullpenbrian - March 30, 2013 - 12:05 pm Leave a comment.

Wrigley Field

Sports Illustrated’s MLB preview says the Cubs will finish (67-95), fifth in the NL Central. Writer Albert Chen does a nice job with the Cubs preview, which you can read here.

Not certain if Chen decided the Cubs final record or if that was a staff pick. But it’s in the neighborhood of where I have the Cubs finishing the season (72-90), fifth in the division.

My only true disagreement with the piece is Bryan LaHair being tabbed as Chicago’s biggest loss from last season. While he did finish the campaign second on the team in HRs (16), LaHair was a disappointment in the season’s second half, transitioning from All-Star to bench warmer.

I suspected some of LaHair’s struggles were due in part to the arrival of Anthony Rizzo in late June, which forced LaHair from first base to the outfield.

Nonetheless, Rizzo was clearly the better player offensively hitting one fewer HR (15) than LaHair and driving in eight more runs (48) in 12 fewer plate appearances and 43 fewer games. Darwin Barney, who posted an on-base percentage under .300 (.299) managed to drive in four more runs (44) than LaHair (40) as well.

Even without Rizzo the Cubs would likely be better off without LaHair in 2013. And we can fairly assume the young Rizzo will perform just as well, if not better, than he did last season.

For my money the biggest loss was Ryan Dempster (5-5, 2.25), who managed a quality start in 69-percent of his outings, had an ERA+174 and a 3.5 WAR. Jeff Samardzija could push for similar numbers this season, but the Cubs will be hard pressed to get Dempster-esque production from their other starters aside from Shark.

“The Cubs are headed in the right direction, with a vastly improved farm system and a promising young core in place, but nobody’s putting the champagne on ice just yet. Next year will be a different story if prospects like Soler and Baez begin making an impact earlier than expected.” –Chen SI.com

Simply put, I see two factors determining the Cubs’ season. 1.) How well they start the season in the win/loss column. 2.) What happens at the trade deadline?

If the Cubs play well in the first three months we could see fewer moves at the trade deadline, which could mean a respectable second half, and an overall record that avoids 100-losses. If not, however, we can expect another yard sale similar to last season’s July moves and the team fighting to avoid triple digit losses during the final two months.

Either way, let’s just be excited Cubs baseball back–for better or worse.

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Cubs Home Opener Countdown

By bullpenbrian - March 29, 2013 - 7:05 pm Leave a comment.

10 days

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Fantasy Baseball Names for Chicago Cubs Fans

By bullpenbrian - March 28, 2013 - 12:01 am Leave a comment.

Fantasy Baseball

Still in need of a team name for your fantasy baseball league?
Look no further than this list of 10 well suited nicknames for Cubbies fans.
Feel free to use, at your own risk of course!

Click here

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Spring Training Records As Misleading As Your NCAA Bracket

By bullpenbrian - March 26, 2013 - 1:30 am 4 comments.

Leo Durocher

Not a year passes that I don’t become more convinced spring training stats are nothing more than fiddle-faddle to keep us busy until opening day. What little information we do get from spring training numbers come from small sample sizes, and hardly provides enough evidence to predict what October baseball will look like, or which players will excel during the regular season.

For heaven’s sake, Felix Pie is batting .417/.585/1.002 with Pittsburgh this spring. Anyone predicting a Silver Slugger Award? Didn’t think so.

Nonetheless, this year’s nonsensical spring stats discussion centers around the Kansas City Royals, who have a sparkling (22-6) record in the Cactus League. “Looks like that whopper of a trade with Tampa Bay has already paid off”…”The Royals appear poised to break through in 2013.”

But haven’t we learned these spring feel-good stories never last, that it’s inevitable the always bumbling Royals will falter again when the games matter most? 

As a reminder, I’ve gone back through final spring training standings since 2007 detailing how misleading a team’s spring record can be. And if you’re someone who hasn’t already taken notice, make sure to jump off the Royals bandwagon before the wheels fall off. 

  • 2013 The Royals, who finished with 90 regular season losses last year, lead the way this spring at (22-6). Meanwhile, the Reds, who won the second most games in baseball in 2012 (97), and are again the favorite in the National League Central, stand (9-18) in the Cactus League. Any doubts these fortunes won’t flip?
  • 2012 Toronto set the bar in Grapefruit League play going (24-7). They finished the regular season with 89 losses and a fourth place standing in the AL East. Atlanta finished the spring (10-18), then won 94 regular season games and the NL wild card. Texas (12-17) in the spring, won 93 games and the AL wild card. Oh, and the Nats,(12-17) in the spring, later won the most games in baseball (98).
  • 2011 The Twins ran away with the Grapefruit League title (20-12). Then lost 99 games in the regular season, posting the second worst record in the majors (Houston 106). Those pesky Royals finished the spring with the best record in the Cactus League (20-10). Then lost 91 regular season games.
  • 2010 Texas (10-19) in spring training, won 90 games, the AL wild card and reached the World Series. Cleveland posted the best mark in the Cactus League (19-9), before losing 93 regular season games.
  • 2009 Atlanta had the second-best record in the Grapefruit League (21-12), but missed the playoffs and finished third in the NL East. Milwaukee went (22-10) in Cactus League play before finishing two-games below .500 in the regular season. The Dodgers struggled to a (15-22) spring record before winning 95 games and the NL West.
  • 2008 Boston was a complete mess (8-13) during the spring. But won 95 regular season games, the AL wild card and reached the ALCS. Oakland posted the best record in the Cactus League (18-8), then lost 86 games during the regular season. The Cubs finished the spring (15-15) and still found a way to win the most regular season games in the National League (97).
  • 2007 Detroit took top honors in the Grapefruit League (21-10) but couldn’t reach the playoffs. Houston had the second-best Grapefruit League record going (18-11). They lost 89 regular season games. The Rangers ended Cactus League play (16-11) before finishing last in the AL West with 87 losses.

Cubs Cactus League (CL) vs. Regular Season (RS) Records

  • 2012: CL (17-16) RS (61-101)
  • 2011: CL (14-19) RS (71-91)
  • 2010: CL (18-12) RS (75-87)
  • 2009: CL (18-18) RS (83-78)
  • 2008: CL (15-15) RS (97-64)
  • 2007: CL (17-13) RS (85-77)
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Name That Cub!

By bullpenbrian - March 25, 2013 - 12:05 am 1 comment.

Cubs Logo

Attended University of Washington.
College teammate of Tim Lincecum.
Drafted by Pirates in 2005.
Traded 4 times in his 5 big league seasons.
Played every position except pitcher and catcher.
Name that Cub! (Answer after the jump)

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Cubs’ Plan-B Saving Rotation

By bullpenbrian - March 24, 2013 - 4:45 pm 2 comments.

Scott Feldman

At the beginning of spring camp the Cubs had more starting pitching arms than spots available in the rotation. Now a week out before opening day and the Cubs have just enough arms to fill out a decent rotation: Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, Feldman, and Villanueva. That’s a credit to Team Theo.

Had the Cubs failed to sign either Edwin Jackson or Scott Feldman the rotation would be in dire straits entering the season. But despite the injuries to Matt Garza (pulled lat muscle) and Scott Baker (strained elbow), both of whom will miss extended time recovering, Chicago still has a decent chance of contending out of the gate.

As often as we hear ‘you can never have enough starting pitching’, it’s not unusual for teams to fall short when adding starting pitching depth. That’s partly because good starting pitching is hard to find. But I assume another reason is good starting pitching cost good money–and some teams simply don’t want to spend on players they view as insurance policies.

However, if you do need those insurance arms, and don’t have them, you’re in a world of trouble. And the 2011 Cubs under Jim Hendry are a perfect example.

The season wasn’t a week old before the starting rotation ran off the track with injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner. Wells was sidelined nearly two months and Cashner didn’t return until September, as a reliever no less.

Meanwhile, Hendry was left to fill the holes with 23-year-old Casey Coleman
(3-9, 6.40 ERA) and 35-year-old Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.42 ERA)  for a combined 40 starts. And that doesn’t include the drastic desperation move
of signing 35-year-old Doug Davis, who lit the mound on fire going (1-7, 6.50 ERA) in nine starts.

Chicago was doomed from the onset without a viable Plan B for the starting staff. That, in combination with other roster shortcoming, put the team on course for a 91-loss season.

The Cubs’ record this season may not be any better than it was two years ago. But we can rest assured it won’t be from a lack of preparation to supplement the rotation with good arms in case of injuries.

Part of understanding the importance of rotation depth is knowing whatever plan you do have in place is only as good as its Plan B.

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Cubs Notes Entering Final Week of Spring Camp

By bullpenbrian - March 23, 2013 - 2:50 pm Leave a comment.

Dale Sveum

This is it, folks. One more week of spring games before the lid lifter at Pittsburgh on April 1st. And somewhat surprisingly, this year marks the first time since 1978 the Cubs will open on the road against the Pirates. Who knew?

Meanwhile, this time next weekend the Cubs will be in Houston for two exhibition games against the Astros to wrap up the spring. Entering this afternoon’s Cactus League contest against the Angels at HoHoKam Stadium, the Cubs are (14-15) overall having won 9 of their last 14 games.

Minutia of note:

  • Cubs pitching has walked just 2 batters in the last 5 games.
  • And for the spring has allowed 3 or fewer walks in 18 games (Nice).
  • Chicago’s 43 spring HRs are second most in the majors (Seattle, 47).
  • David DeJesus is on a 10-game hitting streak.
  • Dioner Navarro leads the club with 11 RBI.
  • Carlos Marmol has not allowed a run over his last 6 outings (5.2 IP).
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Former Cubs Aramis Ramirez and Ted Lilly Talk Agents

By bullpenbrian - March 22, 2013 - 3:30 pm Leave a comment.

Two former Cubs have been featured in a series called ‘Why I Chose My Agency’ by Tim Dierkes at MLBTR.com. Below I’ve posted bulleted pieces of the articles on Aramis Ramirez and Ted Lilly.

There’s an overriding theme in both articles about trust and friendship between player and agent (Aramis and Lilly have both kept their original agent throughout their careers). This also appears time and time again throughout the other articles I’ve read in the series.

Despite the millions of dollars involved, no matter how ridiculous the amount, we learn players deeply value the personal relationships with agents on an equal, if not higher level than the huge sums of money they’re raking off the table.

When analyzing these million dollar deals, alongside a player’s worth on the field, it’s easy to lose site of the human element involved. The money alone is hard enough to comprehend, at least for those of us not making a guaranteed $30 million over the next three years.

But it goes to show some things in life are truly more valuable than money. Having the decency to show your business partner some personal respect is one of them, and heaven help us if we ever lose site of that.

ARAMIS RAMIREZ

Age 34
Entering his 16th season in MLB.
Signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1994.
Acquired by Chicago on July 23, 2003.
Played 9 seasons with the Cubs (2003-11).
Joined Milwaukee in 2012, finished 9th in MVP voting.
He’s signed through 2014 at 3-years, $36M.
Agent Paul Kinzer has been with Aramis from the very beginning.
Read full story here

  • "After I played in the New York-Penn League in 1996, I met him in the Dominican and at the time I didn’t have an agent, so he was my first agent and my only one."
  • "We have a real good relationship, he’s like a father to me. He was the best man at my wedding. It’s not a business relationship between me and Paul. It’s more like a friendship, a father/son thing. We’ve been together for so long…he loves my family, I love his, and we always keep in touch besides business stuff."
  • (On recommending Kinzer to other players): "I have in the past. I don’t really like that, but if there is a guy that doesn’t have an agent, or a young player, I recommend him. I did with [Starlin] Castro when he was coming up. I told Paul he has to go to the complex and sign this kid, he was going to be good."
  • (On the contract clauses with the Cubs that allowed Ramirez to void): "That was his idea all along, and it worked out well.  We did it in Chicago a couple of times and that was a good job on his part."

TED LILLY

Age 37
Entering his 15th season in MLB.
Drafted by Dodgers in 23rd round, 1996.
Signed as free agent with Cubs in Dec., 2006.
Played 4 seasons with Cubs (47-34, 3.70).
Traded by Chicago to L.A. (with Ryan Theriot) on July 31, 2010.
In the final season of a 3-year, $33M contract.
Agent Larry O’Brien has been with Lilly before he reached MLB.
Read full story here

  • “I kind of thought I was going to get the Jerry Maguire deal which was what I got with the majority of guys I ran across. Style is one thing but for me, it takes a back seat to substance and that’s what Larry is about."
  • "He’s definitely more than just my agent. He’s a good friend. He’s a very bright guy so as far as investments and making good choices, certainly in real estate and some other endeavors he’s done well. I think maybe because he’s Irish and he gets a little lucky too."
  • "To the end, whichever direction your career may go, Larry will be there. I think from what I’ve seen and having to be in professional baseball for 17 years, that’s pretty unusual really. In the industry you don’t see that. I’m sure the big agencies do a good job but having a number of friends that have gone that route, when their career is no longer as promising as it once was, they get forgotten about very quickly. Not with Larry. He’s done a great job.”
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Will Alfonso Soriano Top 40 Home Runs?

By bullpenbrian - March 21, 2013 - 12:05 pm Leave a comment.

Alfonso Soriano

It took Alfonso Soriano 119 at-bats to hit his first home run last season.
You may even remember the dramatic solo blast.

Soriano tagged St. Louis flame-thrower Jason Motte in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game 6-6. More specifically, his smash was just one of two home runs Soriano hit to the opposite field in 2012 (video here).

Alfonso Soriano home run

Unfortunately, the Cubs would go on to lose this particular game on a walkoff hit by Yadier Molina (Grr!). But Soriano, as we came to see, was ready to embark on a home run tear.

Despite the fact Bryan LaHair already had 10 HRs, including one during this game, Soriano not only caught LaHair, but went on to stroke a team-leading 32 HRs by season’s end. It marked his second-highest home run total (33) since joining Chicago in 2007.

According to hittrackeronline.com, Soriano finished second in the National League in ‘No Doubt’ home runs (11), defined by the site as “the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts.” Giancarlo Stanton led the NL with 12 no-doubters and Josh Hamilton took top honors in the American League with 15 deep blasts.

Soriano went yard 15 times at Wrigley Field. But his longest home run at the Friendly Confines, a 429 ft shot off San Diego’s Eric Stults, was only his fourth longest of the season.

SORIANO’S LONGEST HRs 2012

  • 452 ft off Zack Stewart, US Cellular Field (video here)
    443 ft off P.J. Walters, Target Field
    435 ft off J.A. Happ, Minute Maid Park

Much of the credit for Soriano’s eventual power surge is credited to manager Dale Sveum gently nudging Soriano to switch to a lighter bat. This appeared to allow Soriano to regain some bat speed that’s naturally lost in a 36-year-old body with tattered legs.

Meanwhile, with the Cubs relying heavily on Soriano to carry the offense this season, the hope is he can come out of the gate much quicker than he did in 2012.

Coupled with a healthy body (Soriano also battled a nagging knee injury for six weeks last year) and Anthony Rizzo protecting him in the order, there’s reason to believe Soriano could take a crack at hitting 40 HRs, which he’s done on one other occasion, hitting 46 with Washington in 2006.

Not only would this be a huge lift for a Cubs offense, which is likely to struggle scoring runs, but the trade possibilities for a healthy, homer-happy Soriano could net Chicago a pretty return at the trade deadline.

However, the truth of the matter is Soriano could also get off to another slow start, suffer an injury or simply show signs that his tired legs are finally out of gas. That’s part of the risk the Cubs have taken by holding onto Soriano this winter and throughout the beginning of the season.

But we also know Soriano brings more to the table than just home runs. His leadership and work ethic are praised by the organization and teammates alike.

That doesn’t erase the albatross of a contract hanging around his neck and squeezing the Cubs’ budget, but another solid year would be a fresh reminder not all of Soriano’s remaining 2 year, $18 million contract is dead money that’s gone to waste—even if it takes him another 120 at-bats to find his groove.

Alfonso Soriano home runs 2012

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